Road Tripping

From Birmingham to Bellingham


Eight days + 3,111 miles + 10,000 photos = a love story in photographs.

After spending all of his 32 years in Birmingham, Alabama, photographer Ryan Russell embarked on a journey of opposites—from the deep South to a new home in the Pacific Northwest, photo-documenting the journey as he traveled. Just as a camera takes an image and inverts it, Ryan likens his trip over the Continental Divide to traveling “through the diaphragm of a camera.”

Photographing nature is a new venture for Russell, a rock ‘n’ roll photographer whose resume includes photographing bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Paramore, Green Day, and Blink-182. It is interesting to see our familiar landscape tinged with a patina of gothic Southern sensibility and punk rock grittiness. It is just a lingering flavor, like a spice your tongue can’t quite name.

Ryan starts the journey sharing his former home through portraits of Birmingham friends. By day two he was repacking the car and jettisoning some of the load to FedEx. Day two also found him passing through Metropolis, Illinois, the official home of Superman, that sports a 15-foot-high bronze statue of the Man of Steel in Superman Square.

Continental Obscura: From Birmingham to Bellingham contains very little text, instead letting the photos speak for themselves with a wide-eyed curiosity for the myriad types of people and places that make up America. Stops along the way include a mix of iconic images (Arches National Park), whimsical kitsch (Oz Museum in Kansas), majestic nature (sunset in Rocky Mountain National Park), and haunting landscapes (abandoned homes near Sego, Utah), as well the faces of “regular” people he meets.

The final third of Continental Obscura focuses on (no pun intended) Ryan’s getting-to-know-you first weeks in our corner of the United States, his lens drawn to the immensity of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan, our wild shorelines, and the mesmerizing aquamarine of Diablo Lake. Black-and-white images mix with color photos, emphasizing the way clouds and mist often shroud us here.

It will be a year in July since Ryan arrived in Bellingham. He is excited about the many opportunities Whatcom County has provided for satisfying his dream of branching out into nature photography. Squalicum Beach, Larrabee, and Birch Bay are favorite water haunts, and Ryan says he’s always up for a Baker adventure and photo shoot.

Bellingham’s network of trails and their relationship to downtown and shopping is something Ryan really enjoys that is very different than Birmingham. And the weather here isn’t as bad as everyone says it is (but that’s our little secret, right?).

Lisa Gresham is the Collection Support Manager for the Whatcom County Library System (WCLS). She selects adult fiction and downloadable materials for WCLS’s 10 branches and bookmobile. Friend us on Facebook!

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